My job

Children and young people’s health needs must be central post-pandemic

New RCN professional lead for children and young people Peta Clark sets out her priorities

New RCN professional lead for children and young people Peta Clark sets out her priorities for the job

Although COVID-19 may not have affected the health of children and young people in the same ways as some adults, the longer-term consequences could be immense, says the RCNs new professional lead for children and young people Peta Clark.

Throughout the pandemic, Ive felt that the impact on children and young people has been very much under the radar, with the focus on adults, says Ms Clark, who took up her secondment to the role in February. As were coming out of it, I want to ensure that the voice of children and young people is prioritised and not lost. They need to be central in decision-making as we rebuild and

...

New RCN professional lead for children and young people Peta Clark sets out her priorities for the job

Children and young people's health needs must be central post-pandemic
Picture: iStock

Although COVID-19 may not have affected the health of children and young people in the same ways as some adults, the longer-term consequences could be immense, says the RCN’s new professional lead for children and young people Peta Clark.

‘Throughout the pandemic, I’ve felt that the impact on children and young people has been very much under the radar, with the focus on adults,’ says Ms Clark, who took up her secondment to the role in February. ‘As we’re coming out of it, I want to ensure that the voice of children and young people is prioritised and not lost. They need to be central in decision-making as we rebuild and re-establish services.’

 RCN’s professional lead for children and young people Peta Clark
Peta Clark

For children and young people the effects have been felt physically, mentally and emotionally, she believes. A small number of those who have had COVID-19 have gone on to be diagnosed with paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS) – a new condition that mostly affects adolescents, but also some children.

Incidences of mental health issues in children and young people have risen

‘We’re not sure what the impact will be on their health in the longer term,’ says Ms Clark.

Children and young people who avoided contracting the virus have still been affected by the pandemic, with school closures, the challenges of lockdown, social isolation, increased anxiety and witnessing the difficulties faced by their own families.

‘Mental health issues have risen from one in nine to one in six children and young people,’ says Ms Clark. ‘We’ve had quite young children expressing concerns about the financial and economic impacts of the pandemic, and some adolescents are reporting a sense of loss for the future they thought they were going to have.

‘We know that children exposed to adverse events have higher risks of developing physical and mental health issues in later life, and they may not be as emotionally resilient,’ she says. ‘There is a potential tsunami of unknown health implications being stored up for the future.’

Proper investment is needed to minimise the pandemic’s effects on health

Supporting children’s nurses to be able cope with what lies ahead is among Ms Clark’s reasons for taking up her post, which lasts for an initial six months. ‘Even before we went into the pandemic, we were 40,000 nurses short overall,’ she says. ‘The pandemic has increased the visibility of nursing, and we’ve seen a rise in people being attracted to the profession, but that only takes us back to where we were, and we need to address that shortfall.

‘The number of school nurses has dropped by around one third over the past few years. We need to ensure there is proper investment so we can minimise the pandemic’s impact on everyone’s health.’

Ms Clark is full of admiration for children’s nurses, many of whom were redeployed to acute services or the community during various stages of the pandemic. ‘They are doing an amazing job in a difficult situation, working with children who have more and more complex needs,’ she says.

After qualifying as an adult nurse in 1995 in Yorkshire, Ms Clark soon developed a keen interest in children’s nursing. ‘I did a paediatric placement early on in my training and I absolutely loved it,’ she says. ‘It clicked with me and I knew it was where I wanted to be. I enjoyed the involvement with the families, advocating for the child or young person.’

As a newly-qualified staff nurse her first role was on a mixed surgical ward at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. She then moved to children’s oncology, where she did her conversion to children’s nursing, qualifying in 1997. After moving to Leeds, where she continued to work in children’s oncology, she left nursing for family reasons in 2000.

‘We’re involved in a lot of work where we can raise the voice of children and young people. ‘I want to make sure that’s at the forefront’

Peta Clark

In a complete change of career, she did a law degree, eventually becoming a solicitor. ‘But I missed nursing, especially having contact with patients and their families,’ says Ms Clark. ‘I had a passion for advocating, so I moved into clinical negligence and personal injury.’

A desire to combine her nursing and legal skills led her to join the RCN in 2008, where her substantive role is as operational manager in the northern region.

Having influence in decision-making was a key attraction to new role

Highlights for the year ahead include a school nursing conference at RCN headquarters in Cavendish Square, London, on 24 August. The wide-ranging programme covers issues including suicide in young people, eating disorders in young males, immunisation and vaccinations.

‘There will be a COVID-19 recovery aspect, taking some of the learning from the pandemic,’ says Ms Clark. ‘It promises to be very timely. Among the concerns is that children with health or other issues may have been missed because services weren’t running.’

Among the new post’s attractions is the ability to influence decision-making. ‘We’re involved in a lot of work where we can raise the voice of children and young people,’ says Ms Clark. ‘I want to make sure that’s at the forefront. We need to find the evidence to demonstrate why they need to be at the centre.’

On Fiona Smith’s retirement, a tribute to her contribution

By Jean Davies

During her 20 years as RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, Fiona Smith provided outstanding support to RCN members and staff, as well as the range of forums and communities in the field.

Fiona, who retired in February, was a member of the Nursing Children and Young People editorial advisory board for many years and was instrumental in shaping policy and improving service provision for neonates, infants, children and young people.

An honorary fellow and member of council of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, she participated in numerous research advisory groups, including those related to safeguarding and child protection.

Fiona Smith, former RCN professional lead for children and young people’s nursing
Fiona Smith

She contributed as an independent panel member to the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation and is a former chair of NHS England’s Infant, Children and Young People’s Patient Safety Expert Group.

Before taking up her position at the RCN in September 2001, she was associate director of nursing, named nurse for child protection and paediatric adviser across the Leicestershire region.

With her wide range of skills, knowledge and experience, she provided inspirational and transformational leadership to RCN members and the wider teams involved in the care of children and young people.

Her tenacity in addressing contemporary and contentious issues in the care of children and young people, and exploring the problems encountered by often underrepresented groups, was instrumental in encouraging RCN members’ confidence and widening expertise to improve service provision and care quality.

She has worked tirelessly, nationally and internationally, collaborating with charities and other organisations on issues related to children’s health, social care and education. Expert professional advice was always available from Fiona, which was much appreciated by the nursing family.

‘Her tenacity in addressing contemporary and contentious issues in the care of children and young people was instrumental in encouraging RCN members’ confidence and widening expertise to improve service provision and care quality’

Her considerable expertise was sought across the four countries of the UK on key matters relating to the health and safety of children and young people, and she always presented a ‘four country perspective’ in her publications, standards and statements produced on behalf of the RCN.

Along with European nursing colleagues, Fiona founded the Paediatric Nursing Associations of Europe (PNAE) network in 2003. With her as coordinator working with the Council of Europe, the network was instrumental in the development of quality standards for children and young people’s nursing across Europe.

I worked with Fiona for more than 19 years and her support and expertise will be greatly missed.

Jean Davies is lecturer for nursing in the school of health sciences at Bangor University in north Wales and chair of the RCN children and young people’s professional issues forum


Want to read more?

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursingchildrenandyoungpeople.com
  • Bi-monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs